Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dissidents Imprisoned Indefinitely

Friday, November 11, 2011
On November 8th, over a dozen Cuban pro-democracy activists were violently arrested for participating in a peaceful public sit-in demanding the release of all political prisoners and an end to the Castro regime's violence against the opposition.

Amongst those arrested were Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antúnez," Pastor Alexei Gómez, Rene Quiroga, José Ángel Abreu, Oscar Veranes Martínez, María del Carmen Martínez, Donaida Pérez Paseiro, Xiomara Martin Jiménez, Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, Orlando Alfonso Martínez, Enrique Martínez Marín, Mayra Conlledo García and Víctor Castillo Ortega.

They all remain in prison.

According to Antúnez's wife, Yris Perez Aguilera:

"I have just been told by a guard from the Police Unit of Placetas that my husband Jorge Luis Garcia 'Antunez' and the other activists arrested alongside him will remain detained for an indefinite period of time because they are under a process of investigation. This was communicated to the guard by a State Security official who did not want to come out and speak to me."

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Honoring Our Veterans

Capitol Hill Cubans


US lawmakers eye oil spill payment from neighbors

Two US senators introduced a bill Wednesday seeking to guarantee compensation for any oil spill originating in waters outside the United States, as Cuba aims to strike black gold off its north coast.
In theory, the bill could involve any US neighbor, from Mexico to the Bahamas or Canada.
But it is Cuba's new, promising drive for oil -- which could potentially turn it from a poor, isolated communist outpost into a flush oil-exporting neighbor after decades of dependency on allies -- that has US lawmakers riled and worried.
Particularly after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, US interests across the Gulf coast fear that the island largely dependent on Venezuelan assistance does not have the finances or knowhow to stop an environmental disaster in the event of a major oil spill.
Despite tense ties between the United States and Cuba, the only one-party Communist regime in the Americas, Cuban authorities in recent months have quietly cooperated with US authorities worried as Spain's Repsol eyes test drilling offshore north of Havana as soon as next month.
Michael Bromwich of the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement told a congressional panel last week that US officials have reached an agreement with Cuba to inspect an oil rig that Havana intends to use for offshore drilling.
"Repsol has offered US agencies an opportunity to board the Scarabeo 9 rig that Repsol intends to use in Cuban waters to inspect the vessel and drilling equipment and to review relevant documentation," he told a House Natural Resources Committee hearing.
"Given the proximity of drilling to US waters, and considering the serious consequences a major oil spill would have on our economic and environmental interests, we have welcomed the opportunity to gather information on the rig's operation, technology and safety equipment."
On Wednesday, Demnocrats Florida Senator Bill Nelson and New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez introduced their Foreign Oil Pollution Act.
"There shall be no limitation on liability under this act for any incident involving a foreign offshore unit in which oil is discharged and enters or poses a substantial threat to enter the navigable waters or the exclusive economic zone," it reads in part.
Menendez said the measure means that "companies seeking to drill in Cuban waters will think twice once they know they would be fully liable for any damages to the Florida Keys, South Florida beaches, or if the spill reached the Gulf Stream, anywhere up the East Coast."
Though it has a broader scope, Nelson acknowledged that the bill is "in part aimed at the situation in Cuba, where Repsol is planning to drill."
The move came a year and a half after an explosion at a BP-operated well in the Gulf of Mexico led to the worst environmental accident in the history of the oil industry.
Officials said the inspection could take place before the end of the year, with drilling possible soon after.
Daniel Whittle of the non-governmental Environmental Defense Fund, which has held discussions with Havana on the plans, told the committee that the Cuban government "made clear its determination to begin exploratory activities this year" and that up to six exploratory wells may be drilled between 2011 and 2013.
Cuba has long been plagued by energy dependence that amounts to its economic Achilles' heel.
Havana depended on the Soviet bloc for cut-rate oil for decades and plunged into economic chaos and blackouts when it was cut off after 1989.
Some studies estimate Cuba has probable reserves of between five and nine billion barrels of oil in its economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Cuban authorities have said their crude reserves are as high as 20 billion barrels.

The Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, Inc. Declares $0.0634 per Share Year-End Distribution


MIAMI, FL--(Marketwire -11/11/11)- The Board of Directors of The Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, Inc. (NASDAQ: CUBA - News) declared a year-end cash distribution of $0.0634 per share from net long-term capital gains, payable on January 9, 2012 to stockholders of record December 15, 2011. The distribution is taxable to stockholders for the calendar year 2011.
All shareholders will receive this distribution in cash, including those currently registered in the Fund's dividend reinvestment plan.
Including this distribution, The Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, Inc. will have paid a total of approximately $4.24 per share in distributions since the Fund's inception in 1994.
The Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, Inc. is a closed-end fund managed by HERZFELD/CUBA a division of Thomas J. Herzfeld Advisors, Inc. (based in Miami). The Fund seeks long-term capital appreciation. To achieve its objective the Fund invests in issuers that are likely, in the Advisor's view, to benefit from economic, political, structural and technological developments in the countries in the Caribbean Basin, which the Fund considers to consist of Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, Aruba, Haiti, the Netherlands Antilles, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and the United States.
Thomas J. Herzfeld Advisors, Inc. specializes in the field of closed-end funds. Information about the advisor and the Fund can be found at
Nasdaq Capital Market: CUBA
Cusip: 42804T106
For further information contact:Cecilia L. Gondor
Thomas J. Herzfeld Advisors, Inc.
PO Box 161465
Miami, FL 33116

Nuke Report Unlikely to Break the Stalemate, Could Iran Be the New Cuba?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers his speech under portraits of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah ALi Khamenei (L) and Iran's founder of Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (R) on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of the revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini's death on June 3, 2011. (Photo: Behrouz Mehri / AFP / Getty Images)

Game changer? Hardly. As the dust settles on this week's release of the International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on Iran, it's become clear that pre-release hype from Western officials that it would produce a dramatic shift in the international standoff over that country's nuclear program appears to be wishful thinking. There's nothing about the report's contents -- all of which had been known to the key players for the past five years -- or the fact of its publication that appears likely to shift any of their positions. Instead, it appears to be triggering another round of business as usual: The U.S. and its key Western allies are pressing for new sanctions, unilateral and via the U.N.; Israel is rattling its saber; Russia and China are telling everyone to calm down and resisting any new sanctions; and Iran is keeping its uranium enrichment centrifuges spinning.
Experts parsing with the material say the IAEA's finding don't differ substantially with those of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate which concluded, to the chagrin of the Israelis and other Iran hawks, that Tehran had halted most of its research into weaponization of nuclear material in 2003. The new report does assert -- on the basis of a narrower set of sources -- that some lower-level apparent weapons research work did, in fact, continue after 2003. But what it calls a "structured program" of weapons research appears to have been mostly halted in 2003.
Still, there's little question that Iran has used its nuclear program to bring the capability to build nuclear weapons within closer reach. The IAEA has now formally rejected  Tehran's insistence that all of its nuclear work has been for civilian energy production, and has demanded that it account for research work that appears to have no purpose outside of warhead design. But it has hardly confirmed the notion that  Iran is racing hell for leather to build nuclear weapons. 
A senior Administration official conceded Tuesday that "the IAEA does not assert that Iran has resumed a full-scale nuclear weapons program", nor does it spell out how much progress has been made in the research effort.
Former U.S. non-proliferation official Mark Fitzpatrick, now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and an expert on Iran's nuclear program, wrote of the report
"Most of the reported weapons development work took place between about 1998 and 2003.  According to the IAEA, some of the explosives development activity continued after 2003 and may be continuing today, but apparently not in the same comprehensive and dedicated manner. The IAEA report is thus consistent with the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate by US intelligence agencies that Iran in late 2003 suspended its weapons R&D work... How far the weapons work progressed before it was suspended is unclear.  There is no indication in the IAEA report that Iran mastered the various processes involved in weapons design and manufacture.  The U.S. government assesses that Iran is not yet at that stage. The US and UK governments believe that Iran cannot make a dash to produce nuclear weapons without the IAEA knowing in time."
Essentially, then, the IAEA report restates what is known, if not always officially acknowledged: Iran seeks the capacity  to build nuclear weapons although it hasn't committed to actually building them -- seeking the "breakout" capacity that puts the option of acquiring nuclear weapons within reach of  Tehran's leaders. It also confirms that the policies of the Obama Administration, like those of the Bush Administration before it, have failed to change Iran's mind. Neither the four sets of U.N. sanctions over the past five years or the additional unilateral measures adopted by the U.S. and its allies; nor the assassination of scientists, sabotage of facilities and Stuxnet computer warm; nor the threat of military action by the U.S. or Israel have halted Iran's progress, even if they may have slowed it, somewhat.
The reason for the report not shifting the positions of major players is that their major dispute is less over exactly what precisely Iran has achieved until now, and  more over how it can be best persuaded to refrain from building nuclear weapons.  It's highly unlikely that a government that sees such weapons as the key to its own survival and is thereforer sanctions to show the Iranians "they would pay a heavy price" for proceeding on their current track. But Russia, China, Turkey and other countries that have resisted the push for sanctions reject the premise that pressure and isolation will deter Iran's plans, and they reject a "military option" out of hand.
The IAEA's board of governors is to meet next week, and could decide by majority vote to send the matter once again to the UN Security Council. It's not clear whether such a majority will be achieved, and nobody's expecting significant action by the Security Council given opposition to significant sanctions  from Moscow and Beijing. But European leaders, responding to Israeli threats of military action, will likely press for new measures, possibly targeting Iran's energy sector (or even its central bank) -- although the U.S. is reportedly more hesitant about measure that would be strenuously opposed by some of Iran's key trading partners (such as China) and could prompt Iranian retaliation that threatened global oil supplies, with resultant economic pain in the West.
Russia, China and others will, more likely, push  for a renewal of negotiations, urging Iran to take confidence-building measures but also urging the Western powers to avoid escalating a confrontational strategy that they believe will not produce a positive outcome.
But the domestic political climate in the U.S. -- with GOP presidential candidates lining up to proclaim their readiness to stop Iran by force, implying that Obama is ducking a challenge --  is hardly conducive to a renewal of engagement with Iran. Even if he follows the cautious advice of his military, Obama will feel compelled to talk tough and add new sanctions to frame any further negotiations. That may make domestic political sense, but it is unlikely to succeed with an Iranian regime that simply digs in its heels in the face of pressure. "You cannot engage and threaten at the same time," warned  University of Hawaii Iran expert Farideh Farhi, recently, in reference to the Obama Administration's strategy of combining talks with sanctions. "It has not worked, and there is no reason to think now that the threat and the pressure have intensified that the Iranian government will be responsive to an offer of conversation."
Indeed, a number of foreign policy mavens believe that it was this "carrot-and-stick" combination that doomed Obama's engagement effort to failure. Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinski and Gen. William Odom wrote in the Washington Post in 2008,
Current U.S. policy toward the regime in Tehran will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons. The seemingly clever combination of the use of "sticks" and "carrots," including the frequent official hints of an American military option "remaining on the table," simply intensifies Iran's desire to have its own nuclear arsenal. Alas, such a heavy-handed "sticks" and "carrots" policy may work with donkeys but not with serious countries.
Thus the Iran dilemma: Military action doesn't solve the nuclear problem and potentially creates very dangerous new ones; no sanctions strong enough to change Iran's calculations appear plausible; and the domestic political climate in both Washington and Tehran renders any diplomatic breakthrough unlikely. And Iran could sustain its slow accumulation of nuclear infrastructure without breaking out of the IAEA inspection regime and starting to build weapons, prompting a crisis. That could turn Iran into another Cuba in U.S. foreign policy -- subject of a long-term embargo that U.S. domestic politics precludes changing, yet which has actually reinforced the power and longevity of the regime against which it is directed. After all, with Iran's mounting domestic economic crisis and food inflation soaring, sanctions imposed from outside become the perfect scapegoat for a regime unable to meet its people's needs, while the constant threat of attack from abroad also sustains a repressive domestic environment that treats political dissent as national treason. For Iran's supremo, Grand Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, getting the Castro treatment from Washington may even be a desirable goal.

Surfing the News...

Cuban parliament chief downplays unilateral release of American, possible swap for Cuban Five ...Here...


People to People to host Cuba talk

Cuba, past and present, is the subject of a discussion sponsored by People to People International, the Delaware Chapter, on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Historic Hale Byrnes House, 606 Stanton-Christiana Road, Newark.
The event is free, however seating is limited to 25, and organizers ask people to reserve a spot by emailing
The speakers include Cuba natives Dr. Pedro M. Ferreira, an educator of non-traditional adult students, and Yrene E. Waldron, executive director of the Delaware Health Care Facilities Association.
They came to the U.S. in the 1960s as part of Operation Pedro Pan, an effort of the Catholic Welfare Bureau and the U.S. State Department. It resulted in thousands of Cuban boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 were moved to the U.S. following the revolution of Fidel Castro.
Also scheduled to speak is Don Whitely, a member of People to People-Delaware who recently traveled to Cuba.


Tampa baseball all-stars return to Cuba, 57 years later

Charlie Miranda, chairman of the Tampa City Council, wore a ballcap and gently rubbed a baseball as he sat in the dugout. Nearby, a group of his 60-something teammates took infield, bending a bit gingerly at times, but still showing the proper base-to-base instincts.
"This makes you feel young again,'' Miranda said. "We still have some dreams.''
Fifty-seven years ago, Miranda and his boyhood baseball all-star pals from Ybor City's Cuscaden Park traveled to Cuba for a five-game series against that nation's top youth players. Miranda still describes the trip, sponsored by the Ybor City Optimist Club, as one of his life's highlights. It was the pre-revolution Havana, a jewel of the Caribbean. The Ybor City boys saw it sparkle with nightlife, sunny beaches and plush resorts.

Coming housing boom... in Cuba? And Here...

Venezuela's Perez would revise Cuba oil deal

CARACAS (Reuters) - A leading opposition candidate hoping to challenge Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at next year's presidential election would revise preferential oil deals with Cuba and other Central American nations if he wins.
Pablo Perez, governor of the oil-rich western state of Zulia, is one of three front-runners who will take part in an opposition primary in February to pick a unity candidate to take on Chavez at the main vote in October.
Chavez has closely allied himself and his socialist "revolution" with communist-led Cuba.
"Venezuela is losing $8 billion (a year) because of gifts that are given out by the government. With that money we can generate 1.1 million jobs," Perez told Reuters this week after a walking tour of Caracas's upmarket Chacao district.
The 42-year-old lawyer did not elaborate, but the opposition frequently bash what they say are overly-generous oil deals that the Chavez government has made with political allies including Cuba and some Central American states.
If an opposition candidate defeats Chavez next year and ends the former soldier's 13 years in power, they would all be expected to review these deals. The majority of the agreements are unpopular with Venezuelans, according to opinion polls.
Venezuela sends about 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil to Cuba. In exchange, thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses and teachers work in Venezuela, including in projects such as President Chavez's signature socialist "missions" in slums.
Cuba's struggling economy is closely intertwined with that of Venezuela, which as well as supplying about two-thirds of Cuba's oil needs is also refurbishing the island's antiquated refineries and planning to build a new one.
The OPEC member also makes about 185,000 bpd available to Caribbean countries on preferential terms under its Petrocaribe energy alliance. Such deals buy Chavez political influence, but the opposition accuses him of squandering national resources.
The president says his rivals want to reverse his social policies in the country's poorest areas and to rid the nation of Cuban workers.
(Writing by Daniel Wallis; editing by Anthony Boadle)

Cuba pol cool to talk of release, swap for US man

HAVANA (AP) — The president of Cuba's parliament said Friday no one should expect the island to unilaterally free an imprisoned American aid contractor and threw cold water on hopes he could be swapped for five Cuban agents held for more than a decade in the U.S.
Ricardo Alarcon's comments, similar to ones he has expressed in the past, maintained Havana's firm line in a case that has been a thorn in already prickly relations between the Cold War rivals. He spoke in response to comments by a U.S. rabbi who recently visited prisoner Alan Gross at a Cuban military hospital and said the Maryland man hoped for such an exchange.
"They are different situations," Alarcon told journalists at a convention on fighting corruption.
"I read the statement from Rabbi (David) Shneyer ... I think it is a very measured, respectful statement expressing a legitimate humanitarian concern that I understand." But, he said, "I don't think people should expect unilateral gestures."
Gross, 62, has been behind bars for nearly two years since his arrest in early December 2009, accused of illegally bringing communications equipment into Cuba while on a USAID-funded democracy-building program. Cuba's Communist government considers such programs tantamount to efforts at regime change.
In March, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state. He maintains he was trying to help members of Cuba's tiny Jewish community get online.
His imprisonment has put a damper on any likelihood of improved ties between Cuba and the United States, which do not have formal diplomatic relations and are divided by five decades of mutual suspicion and distrust.
Gross' case was raised earlier this week when Roberta S. Jacobson, President Barack Obama's nominee to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"We ... continue to seek the unconditional release of American citizen Alan Gross, a dedicated development worker who has been unjustly imprisoned in Cuba for nearly two years," Jacobson told the committee.
Family members have expressed concern for Gross' health and urged his release on humanitarian grounds, but Alarcon's words suggest that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Talk of possibly swapping Gross for one or more of the "Cuban Five" agents imprisoned in the United States has similarly gone nowhere. One of the men, Rene Gonzalez, was paroled last month but ordered to remain in the U.S. while he serves three years of probation.
On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana continue to have regular consular access to Gross and visited him most recently on Nov. 3.
His wife, Judy Gross, has urged Americans to contact members of Congress and write letters to newspapers pressing for her husband's return.
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi contributed to this report.